One of the few things that Yankees fans universally agree on is that matter of the Luke Voit trade. No one would deny that the swap with St. Louis was a major coup for the organization. While just adding Voit in that deal would have been more than enough to make it a win, the Yankees also acquired a significant chunk of international bonus pool allotment from St. Louis in the deal. They almost immediately combined that additional bonus pool to sign switch-hitting Cuban shortstop Alexander Vargas.
Vargas originally had plans to sign with Cincinnati, but was going to have to wait almost a full year for them to gain the bonus pool available to close the deal. The Yankees pounced on the opportunity, and signed a player for the biggest signing bonus they had offered an international player since 2014. While highly skilled, they Yankees were projecting that the 145-pound Vargas could gain the strength to become both an offensive and defensive force. He, as much as any player in the system, appears to be on the verge of producing the type of breakout that Yankees scouts envisioned prior to him joining the organization.
2019 Stats (Rookie Ball – DSL and GCL): 217 PA, .233/.313/.373, 1 HR, 7 3B, 15 SB, 3 CS, 12.9% K, 8.3% BB
Prospect Rankings (Yankees System): 13 (MLB), 5 (FanGraphs), 13 (Baseball America) 90 (FanGraphs)
Prospect Rankings (Top-100 in Baseball): 90 (Fangraphs)
Vargas played the 2019 season as a 17-year-old still weighing around 150 pounds, jumping to the Gulf Coast League shortly after the season began. While able to make consistent contact, he was not able to generate the type of hard contact that he would need to produce as a professional.
With the cancellation of the 2020 season, Vargas in coordination with the Yankees coaching staff hit the gym and packed on close to 30 pounds of muscle before he arrived at the Yankees instructional camp this December. The early reports from the camp are glowing, as it appears that Vargas has retained his quickness while also giving himself the chance to become a true offensive weapon with the bat.
In 2019, Vargas used a big leg kick, which can be seen in the video of his only professional home run below. His new physical tools have allowed him reduce that leg kick while generating more contact and impact on the ball. The Yankees are expecting to see big jumps in both his average and max exit velocities this coming season.
After a short stint in the Dominican Summer League, SS Alexander Vargas hit his first home run in America yesterday. The 17-year-old switch-hitter has been productive out of the leadoff spot for the GCL Yankees East. Vargas is a native of Cuba and signed with the Yankees in 2018. pic.twitter.com/nxoVWXVGHq— NYYPlayerDev (@NYYPlayerDev) July 17, 2019
Yankees minor league hitting coordinator Dillon Lawson witnessed Vargas’ progression this winter and said in a recent article “Now, he’s at a point where he’s starting to physically mature, and the results of all his hard work are really starting to show.” Lawson continued with his praise of Vargas’ game, stating “His entire game is really exciting and super athletic and electric.”
One of the most dynamic parts of Vargas’ game is his speed and ability to steal a base. During his debut season he stole 15 bases on 18 attempts, including going a perfect 13 for 13 after jumping to the GCL. The Yankees will be looking to run more in the minor leagues this season as they implement an aggressive base stealing system. Vargas has the ability and tools to be front and center of this aggressive base running approach.
The same quickness that makes Vargas tough to catch on the bases also gives him the potential to be a great shortstop. He has outstanding range, good hands, a solid arm and quick release, allowing him to make almost every play.
The shortstop position is crowded on Yankees’ prospect rankings. Oswald Peraza, Josh Smith, Anthony Volpe and Vargas will all play at one of the Class-A levels this coming year. Reviews seem to peg Peraza and Vargas as the best defensive shortstops, giving them the best chance to play the position exclusively this coming season, but there will be competition in the system.
Based on his experience in the Gulf Coast League, Vargas is likely heading for Low-A Tampa, with many of the other top prospects to start the season. It is not out of the question that the Yankees will ask him to start in extended spring training for a few weeks before making that jump. With so many unknowns after the lost minor league season, if Vargas can effectively perform with his new strength and existing bat-to-ball skills, he could finish the year with High-A Hudson Valley if his performance warrants it.
Yankees scouts loved Alexander Vargas’ skills and exciting style of play when they signed him in 2018. He has now grown into the physical talent they projected him to be, and 2021 could be a platform for his breakout season. Vargas is a true talent to watch, who may be on the minds of all Yankees fans by the end of this coming year.